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“I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes”

(from the 1993 classic “The Sign” by Ace of Base)

In the weeks leading up to Advent, many churches will be hearing stories from the gospels about “the end times.” Not from the Book of Revelation, but from the gospels. This is Jesus talking about the end of things and, more importantly, that he’ll return. That’s why we’re hearing these stories. Jesus promised to return. So the season of Advent isn’t just the season of expectation leading to the day we recognize Jesus’ arrival in the distant past, but his coming this year and his expected return in the future.

We might also want to consider that he never left and that the point of Jesus is to show us the Jesus in each of us, that we may “see Jesus” always in ourselves and each other. Jesus is here everyday, not just Christmas Day. Something, I think, worth pondering.

But let’s talk about these stories of the end times and Jesus’ return as he describes it for his first century audience in the gospels. There’s destruction and death, wars and famine and earthquakes, great “distress” and “tribulation” and false prophets and people claiming to be the messiah.

Maybe it’s because we just finished a group study at the church on Revelation or maybe it’s because of the days we’re living, but I feel like there should be some plagues in there, maybe fires, hurricanes and murder hornets and civil strife, too. 2020 has sure been the year for that.

That’s another good reason to hear these stories. I don’t think the point of them is to scare people, though they’ve certainly been used that way. It’s that these are the signs, Jesus says, of what is to come next: “at that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). So, Jesus says through all this, keep watch, be discerning, be prepared, keep awake.

The last few weeks, I’ve been talking about what Jesus meant by all that, emphasizing that he doesn’t mean just sitting around waiting, but rather living, with love, compassion, justice and grace, just as he showed us we could. So, maybe we could have a break now that Advent’s here. Well. No.

But there is something more. Each of Mark, Matthew and Luke, in the middle of all this distressing stuff, have Jesus use the fig tree as an example of how we should see what’s happening. When you see buds on the fig tree, he says, you know that summer is near. It’s a sign. Read the signs and you’ll see that the time is near.

Yes, of course. When we see buds in the spring, we know that summer’s coming (eventually), though you might not pinpoint the exact day. But it’s not just the new season that’s coming, it’s the new life. And. It’s the fruit.

That’s just it. Even now, we might look and see signs that the world is changing, but are we seeing the signs of death and destruction or the signs of new life? It’s the buds that bring the flowers that bear the fruit in the new season. Isn’t it the acts of love, kindness and caring that will bear the fruit of the future? Where do you see the promise of new life where you’re at?

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